After Cody Parkey played bumper cars with the upright and cross bar at Soldier Field last week, disgruntled Chicago Bears fans took their frustration out on the little kicker, skewering him like a kabob on social media since it led directly to the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wildcard Game.
Was the defeat all due to that miss? Of course, it wasn’t. But it was the last mishap of the day and the one history will remember. So for some, it will always be Parkey’s fault.
On Sunday, Eagles fans had to deal with their own passion play. Alshon Jeffrey let an easy reception slip through his hands, off his pads and into the warm arms of Marshon Lattimore to end their last comeback and time as Super Bowl champions.
Was the defeat all due to that gaffe? Of course, it wasn’t. But the Eagles had come so far so fast during the previous four weeks with Nick Foles in control and hopes were high again in New Orleans. So, for some, Jeffrey will forever be linked to their demise in the NFC Divisional Round.
These two events are just the latest additions to the thick flub file that has incensed sports fans for decades. Bill Buckner is in it. Chris Webber is in it. Pete Carroll, Leon Lett and Steve Bartman are there, too.
Each did something, subconsciously, erroneously or, in Carroll’s case, with premediated stupidity, near or at the end of a game, that caused their team to lose when it might have won. And that rightly drives fans crazy.
The point is, these things happen every so often and the offenders are made to pay a disproportionate price because of the angst it causes at home.
Just take a look at the circumstances that led Jeffrey into the lair. After taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, the Eagles, on a four-game winning streak back to relevancy that had resembled a magic carpet ride, were down 20-14 and driving to a game-winning touchdown with the two-minute warning approaching.
At this point, the ineffectiveness of the Eagles offense following their second touchdown had been forgiven, shoved aside by giddiness as their fans braced for another Foles miracle.
There was no memory of an attack that scored on consecutive 75-yard drives to start the game, rolling to eight first downs, and then managed eight first downs the rest of the way.
All of a sudden, Old Saint Nick was back in his sled, in full control of the reins. Saints kicker Will Lutz misses a field goal with less than three minutes to play. Bam. Foles hits Zach Ertz for 16 yards and absorbs a late hit. Zoom. Here come the Eagles.
And then on second-and-10 from the Saints 27, Foles zipped a nice throw to a wide open Jeffrey on a slant.
He catches the ball and its “Fly Eagles Fly.”
He missed it and it was “Die Eagles Die.”
Damn that Alshon Jeffrey. Didn’t NJ.com quote him four weeks ago saying he had the best hands in the league? Yes, he did. “Hands down,” he emphasized.
“I let my teammates down. I let the city of Philadelphia down. That’s on me. We’ll be back next year for sure,” said Jeffery. “One play don’t define me. I mean, all of the greats, they have missed game-winning shots. … So it happens. It’s part of football. I just hated the way it happened in the playoffs and it was the final moment.”
You’ll excuse Eagles fans if the sentiment felt somewhat shallow. Professional athletes are transitory figures. With very few exceptions, like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, they come and go from team to team and don’t do anything truly memorable while they are around.
When Jeffrey got on the plane on Sunday, this is what his accountant likely texted him: “Hey man, tough break. But buddy, you signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Eagles, including a $6.25 million signing bonus. And just under $27 million is guaranteed with an average annual salary of $13 million.”
And Jeffrey likely reclined his seat and thought back on the 65 catches he made his season for 843 yards and six touchdowns and figured it was a nice year. Didn’t end well, but good enough.
“It’s hard. I mean, it’s really hard because he’s so down,” said Eagles coach Doug Pederson. “But for me, it’s about staying positive. Listen, he’s made many, many big catches for us this season and he will continue to do that. He’s just got to keep his head up. Don’t let one play define you. It’s not who he is. He’s too good of a player. He’ll embrace it obviously and he’ll be better for it, but I told him to keep his head up and keep playing.”
After the play, you might have noticed that Jeffrey lay face down in the artificial turf. Eagles fans were thinking he was a snake in the grass. His teammates came around and patted him on the head, on his back, on his butt. Pat-pat-pat, feel better buddy.
“He’s one of the best players on this football team. That game wasn’t decided by that play, number one,” said tight end Zach Ertz, who set an NFL record for most receptions by a tight end in a season. “Two, we wouldn’t change the play call. And three, we’re not in this situation without him. That’s the bottom line. He is one of the best receivers in the league. There are not many guys who are able to make plays continually like he does. Does he catch that ball 99 times out of 100? Yeah. [Does he catch it] 999,999 out of a million? Yeah. It’s tough to end like that … but he should know that play didn’t decide this game.”
Well, Zach, to some it certainly was. To that guy eating his hoagie on East Passyunk Avenue, the one wearing the Jaworski jersey about to reach for his SEPTA card to get home, it meant everything in the world.
For the next few years, he will blame Jeffrey for the loss that ended the Eagles season because that’s what fans tend to do.
Is it fair? Nobody said it has to be.